Obituaries

Revd Canon Dr Gavin White (1927-2016)

We are sad to announce the death of a longstanding member, Revd Canon Dr Gavin White, on Christmas Eve 2016. 

Gavin White was born in 1927 at Montreal, the son of a Canadian army brigadier, and on both sides of railway stock. In 1941 the family moved to Hamilton, Ontario, and the contrast between the two provinces and cultures remained with him for the rest of his life – Scotland being Quebec, England being Ontario, or some other such projection of local Canadian divisions onto the world scene. Subsequently there was a move to Nova Scotia, during which he was at a boarding school in Ontario. This was highly athletic, but he was not, and so required to run a route in the surrounding country; this pleased him and gave him the exceptional lung-power which is the one prerequisite for life as a lecturer. After the war came a return to Montreal, where he attended McGill University for one year. Unattracted by this, he dropped out and spent a year in a Toronto sales office where he learned much and enjoyed much – before yielding to entreaties to finish his degree which he did in Toronto.

His next move was to the Arctic for two years on weather stations, followed by a theological college in England – he said an isolated Arctic weather station and such a college were very similar, though the latter was chillier. After ordination (the Bishop of Oxford refused to ordain over some typical argument about Princess Margaret and opening a gate, in which argument he was not directly involved) he returned to Canada and two and a half years as a curate in Quebec City. Those were pleasant and satisfying years, as were the year and a half that followed as chaplain to construction teams on DEWline radar sites in the Arctic. The next move proved false – it was to a mining town in Labrador where Indians had been moved from further north, and while reasonably proficient in Inuktatuk (Eskimo) he never mastered Cree and found the whole business frustrating. He lasted a year and left with a permanent souvenir – a lung which whistled whenever a doctor listened to it.


There followed a move to Africa, something he had had in mind for years, and which found him (after a year in the Ottawa valley while the mission sorted out whether an dhow to fit a Canadian into its structure) in Tanganyika. Once again he was a curate, and there he met Robin whom he married in 1963. By then he was teaching at a theological college in Kenya, and there they remained until the end of 1966. Then leave in New York where he studied in the expecation of returning to Africa, but that did not happen and there was more study, this time for PhD, in London. And a temporary move to Glasgow as temporary lecturer in church history. He ended up staying at that job until retirement twenty-two years later.

He thoroughly enjoyed Glasgow University though he did not take it too seriously, and it is probably true to say that these feelings were reciprocated. In his heart of hearts he did not believe that the British were up to having universities, or railways, though on the latter subject he was in good company and could be more outspoken. Gavin White had a reputation for knowing things that nobody else knew, and it is true that he chomped through Glasgow University Library like a weevil in a cornfield, but he achieved his wide-ranging knowledge of what others did not know by not knowing what they did know. Music, sport, gardening, celebrity, royalty, those things meant nothing to him, but since everyone was assumed to know about them, nobody noticed his indifference. His publications were on a wide variety of subjects and in a wide variety of journals – his two textbooks met with scholarly approval but no great commercial success, and his major writings never found publishers. Oddly, it was his New York thesis, which circulated in photocopy form, and an article on American church history which was republished in a volume of essays without his knowledge, which attracted most attention.

After retirement he and Robin settled in St Andrews, from which his grandfather had emigrated to Canada (he preferred the verb “escape” for both his migrating grandfathers).

Gavin is survived by his wife Robin, still living in the centre of St Andrews in Fife, and by three children and six grandchildren. Rehema (born in Nairobi) lives a few miles away in rural Fife, is an academic at the University of St Andrews and has two ten year old twin boys, Ronan and Atholl; Peter (born in New York) lives in Edinburgh, works in the software industry and has a seven year old daughter Amy; and Stephen (born in London) lives in Belgium where he works for the European Commission and has three boys, Callum, Cameron and Alasdair (fifteen, twelve and seven).

Revd Canon Dr Timothy Yates (1935-2016)

Reverend Canon Dr Timothy Yates was a theological educator, missiologist and historian, whose ministry included time as Warden of Cranmer Hall, Durham. He authored a number of books, including Venn and Victorian Bishops Abroad (1978), Christian Mission in the Twentieth Century (1994), The Expansion of Christianity (2004), Pioneer Missionary, Evangelical Statesman : a life of A. T. (Tim) Houghton (2011) and The Conversion of the Maori: Years of Religious and Social Change, 1814-1842 (2013).

Dr Jenny Wormald (1942-2015)

Dr Jenny Wormald was ‘one of the most influential and prolific researchers, writers and teachers of Scottish history of her generation’. During a long and fertile career at Glasgow and Oxford universities, she published widely on late medieval and early modern Scotland, producing an influential study of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Professor Christopher Brooke (1927-2015)

Professor Christopher Brooke was a distinguished medieval historian and for many years Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, as well as being President of the EHS from 1968-9. He was the son of the medieval historian Zachary Brooke, who was a major influence on his development as an historian. As Christopher himself said, he was his father’s “apprentice” and at the age of 14 or so ‘gave up collecting engine numbers and collected medieval archdeacons instead’. He was appointed to his first chair in history at the age of 26 in Liverpool before moving to Westfield College in the University of London, and thereafter back to Cambridge. He was the author, among many books and articles, of From Alfred to Henry III 871-1272 (1961), Europe in the Central Middle Ages, 962-1154 (1964), The Structure of Medieval Society (1971), and London 800-1216: The Shaping of a City (1975). 

Derek Baker

Derek Baker, longtime editor of Studies in Church History in the fairly early days, died on 26th May after a short illness.

Revd Professor Owen Chadwick, OM, (1916-2015)

Members who have not read about it already will be saddened to hear of the passing of The Reverend Professor Owen Chadwick, OM, KBE, FBA, FRSE, on Friday 17th July. The elder brother of Henry Chadwick (EHS President, 1984-5), Owen’s prodigious output as an author and editor spanned the Church of England, the papacy and European thought from the Reformation to the twentieth century. He was Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, from 1956-83, during which time he was successively Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Regius Professor of Modern History. He also served as President of the British Academy from 1981-5 and as Chancellor of the University of East Anglia, from 1984-94. He also played a key role in reshaping the structures of the Church of England as chair of the Chadwick Commission (1966-70). As President of the Ecclesiastical History Society in 1988-9 his theme was ‘The ministry:clerical and lay’, published as SCH 26. Of the many tributes paid to him, John Morrill’s obituary in The Guardian perhaps best encapsulates the breadth of a figure who, while being ‘one of the most remarkable men of letters of the twentieth century’, was also ‘immune from arrogance and self-importance’.